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An Exhibition of Sculpture, Tools and Accessories,
Printed Materials, Models, and Memorabilia from
the Collection of Mrs.
Duane (Wesla) Hanson
December 11, 1997 - January 11, 1998
Bienes Center for the
The Dianne and Michael Bienes
Special Collections and Rare
Broward County Library, 6th Floor
100 S. Andrews Avenue ·
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
Co-sponsored by the:
Museum of Art
1 East Las Olas Blvd.
Lauderdale, FL 33301
Apparently from the start, Duane Hanson's primary interest was in recreating
the human form. His first extant sculpture is a three-dimensional wood rendering
of the figure in Thomas Gainsborough's famous portrait The Blue Boy (c.
1770). Remarkably, Hanson created his version of Blue Boy in 1938 when
he was thirteen, while living with his family in Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, an
isolated town of 700 inhabitants. According to the artist, there was only one
small library in town, which had only one art history book, in which he
discovered Gainsborough's portrait of a dashing young man wearing blue satin
breeches. Hanson carved Blue Boy out of soft wood, possibly a log, using
whatever implements were available, including his mother's butcher knife.
Hanson's early sculptural efforts also included carving his mother's old
broomsticks into miniature representations of the human form (or portions
thereof), both nude and clothed. Like Blue Boy, these miniatures are
naturalistically rendered. Striking a variety of poses, they suggest that Hanson
was exploring the different postures that the human body can assume.
In 1941, on a trip to Minneapolis, Hanson visited an art museum for the
first time, where he joyfully discovered that actual works of art were on
display. His first formal art training began two years later when he enrolled in
college. One of the few sculptures that survives from Hanson's college years is
a small soapstone likeness of a corpulent woman spanking a child. This sculptureexecuted
while Hanson was a student at Macalester College in St. Paul in the mid 1940sis
probably one of the earliest that he produced in a medium other than wood, and
it is noticeably more stylized and abstract than Blue Boy and the
This change in Hanson's style may have resulted from his choice of stone as
his medium. It is also likely that, while at college, Hanson was introduced to
the dominant artistic trends of the period, which indicated a shift away from
naturalism toward abstraction. Woman Spanking Child represents Hanson's
attempts to reconcile his naturalistic sculptural inclinations with Abstract
Expressionism, a struggle that would consume Hanson throughout the late 1940s
and 1950s. This is implied in a statement Hanson made later: ". . . I went
to school and heard you had to be modern... I didn't really warm up until Pop
Art made Realism legitimate again."
The work of the Pop artists of the 1960susually direct, literal
renderings of commonplace objects, such as soup cans and Brillo boxesundoubtedly
encouraged Hanson to yield to his naturalistic inclinations. One of the first
sculptures Hanson created after moving to South Florida in 1965 was Abortion,
a two-foot-long mixed-media rendering of a dead pregnant woman sprawled on a
table and covered with a sheet. Abortion reveals that by 1965 Hanson had
not only embraced realism unabashedly, but he had begun to comment on
When Abortion was publicly displayed for the first time in Miami the
following year, it provoked vehement reactionsboth favorable and negativeand
Hanson suddenly became a celebrity in the South Florida art scene. Apparently he
decided that Abortion would have had even more impact if he had made it
larger, for soon thereafter he recreated it life size. Although he was
disappointed with the larger version of Abortion and he later destroyed
it, he would never again work on a small scale. By 1967 he had begun casting
sculptures in molds created directly from the bodies of human models, which
became his standard method of working for the rest of his career.
Hanson's provocative lifelike sculptures of the human form, which he
embellished with accessories such as hair, clothes and a variety of props,
quickly attracted attention beyond South Florida. In 1967, the important New
York art dealer Ivan Karp began to woo Hanson away from Miami, and in 1969 the
artist moved to Manhattan. Although Hanson's move broadened his work's exposure
in the New York art world, he quickly grew weary of the city. In 1973 he
returned to South Florida, settling in Davie where he lived for the rest of his
Despite Hanson's absence from New York, his work's esteem and popularity
continued to increase, and it was during the 1970s that he attained
international recognition. One solo exhibition in particular, at the Whitney
Museum of American Art in New York City (1978), was influential in establishing
Hanson as one of the leading sculptors of the late twentieth century. The
exhibition unexpectedly attracted more than 297,000 visitors, thereby setting an
attendance record for the museum that has never been surpassed.
Throughout his mature career, Hanson's intent as an artist was not merely to
impress the viewer with the incredible verisimilitude of his sculpture. An
indication of this was his fondness for quoting Henry David Thoreau's statement
that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." In the
downcast, sober gazes of Hanson's archetypes of humanity, most of which were
inspired by working-class subjects, one senses that he wanted to comment on the
contemporary human condition, that he intended to reflect the sense of
isolation, loneliness, and alienation that we experience in the modern world.
Among the many awards and accolades Hanson received before his death in
January 1996, he was perhaps most proud of those that identified him as a
Florida artist. In 1983, he was given the Ambassador of the Arts Award of the
State of Florida, and two years later he received the first annual "Florida
Prize" of $10,000 for his outstanding achievements in sculpture. In 1987,
he was honored with a "Duane Hanson Day" proclamation in Broward
County, and he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in 1992.
Today, it is the general consensus that Hanson was the most popular and
significant artist ever to have come out of South Florida.
Laurence Pamer, Curator of Exhibitions
Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale
Duane Hanson: An Exhibition of Sculpture, Tools and Accessories, Printed
Materials, Models, and Memorabilia from the Collection of Mrs. Duane (Wesla)
Hanson, is the result of what is hoped will be the first of many future
collaborative projects between Broward County Library's Bienes Center for the
Literary Arts and the Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
The Bienes Center's Hanson display developed out of a desire on the
part of the Museum of Art, Ft. Lauderdale and the Bienes Center to establish a
closer working relationship. The main objective, of course, was to share scarce
precious resources, but the larger and more important goal was to acquire and
share new audiences for both institutions so that there would be less of a
distinction between booklovers and artlovers.
One of the primary goals of The Dianne and Michael Bienes Special
Collections and Rare Book Library is to acquire, preserve, and make available to
the public the literary and other cultural records of the residents and
institutions of the State of Florida. The documents and artifacts that chronicle
the achievements of Broward County and its inhabitants are of special interest,
and it is with the above in mind that the exhibit is presented.
Duane Hanson (Jan. 17, 1925-Jan. 6, 1996) moved to Florida in 1965 and
became a permanent resident of Broward County and the City of Davie in 1973
where he lived until his death in 1996. He took great pride in his long
association with South Florida and flourished in his semi-rural retreat in Davie
where he maintained his home and studio. In 1992, equally honored by the fact
that he chose to resided in Florida, the State inducted him into the Florida
Artists Hall of Fame, and in 1995, Broward [County] Cultural Affairs presented
him with its Artistic Achievement Award.
Hanson was very protective of his creative output and destroyed many early
works because they were not representative of his mature style. In a hand
written note dated Nov. 26, 1981 attached to the inside of his personal copy of
the Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art exhibition catalog, Hanson put in writing the
philosophy behind his later artistic development: "I'm mostly interested in
the human form as subject matter and means of expression for my sculpture. What
can generate more interest, fascination, beauty, ugliness, joy, shock or
contempt than a human being." He continues in the same note: "Most of
my time involves concentrating on the sculpting aspect. Casting, repairing,
assembling, painting, correcting it until it pleases me. That takes some doing
as I'm rarely satisfied."
Hanson's very personal notes to himself furnish an intimate look into the
philosophy behind his creative genius, and the objects in the exhibition provide
the viewing public with a rare opportunity to experience actual, everyday items
used by one of the major American artists of the 20th century.
James A. Findlay, Librarian
Bienes Center for the Literary Arts